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The 10 Caprices For Solo Violin by Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté

Now that my new album of this gorgeous music is finally out in the world, available on Spotify (and most other online music-sharing platforms too!), as well as on that old-fashioned thing called a CD, I thought I would write a bit about the music itself, so that you may know about what you are hearing! I have talked a lot about the composer, Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, both in a blog post and in my video diaries (where I video-documented my whole project surrounding Sonia and her music and which I shared on YouTube and on this website!), but haven’t yet really gone into detail about the actual music that she wrote.  I believe that once you know the stories behind her violin Caprices, you can truly get to know Sonia as a person and then her music may have a beautiful impact on you, as it did on me!

Before I delve into the world of Sonia’s 10 Solo Violin Caprices, I think it would be best to explain a little more about her and what her life looked like when she composed this music.  Right from a very young age, Sonia was formidable!  Even in today’s culture of empowering women, female bosses and girl power, Sonia would have ruled over all.  At the age of 15, when she and her mother and sister faced homelessness in Berlin at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Sonia took her violin, marched into all the bierkellers who would have her and earned enough money to get her family off the streets.  She was known throughout her life as a ‘no-nonsense’, ‘tough’ and ‘stern’ character, but if we imagine how difficult it must have been to be a female composer living throughout the first half of the 20th century in Europe, particularly in Nazi-occupied Vienna during the Second World War , and making her name as an artist in her own right and as a woman who chose not to have children or live as a housewife as were the pressures of that society at that time, then perhaps we might listen to her music with a different kind of respect!

 

Sonia often wore men’s clothing, perhaps to assert her authority

 

One of the most important relationships in Sonia’s life, was that with her first husband, Walter Gramatté.  The two artists met in Berlin in 1919, at a private literary evening of young poets, when Sonia was just 20 years old, and they were married the following year, in 1920.  Until Walter’s tragic death from TB in 1929, the couple led an adventurous life together, living and working in Berlin, Spain and France.  Walter painted several wonderful images of Sonia, some of which I will include here, and it was during these years, from 1924 to 1934, that Sonia composed the 10 Caprices for Solo Violin.  So much of this music and the ideas found within it reflect the life that Sonia shared with Walter and her own often powerful and tragic feelings related to losing her first love.  After Walter died, Sonia met an art critic named Ferdinand Eckhardt in 1930, who was researching Walter’s work at the time.  The two connected through their love and respect for Walter, and Ferdinand eventually became Sonia’s second husband in 1934.  I think her emotions of loyalty to Walter while choosing to go with another man and the complexity of these personal feelings is also something that can be heard most poignantly in Sonia’s later Caprices.

 

Sonia and Walter

 

Sonia and Ferdinand

 

So, now to the Caprices themselves.  They are quite unique pieces of music in Sonia’s body of work, in that she wrote each one quickly, kind of ‘off the cuff’, where her other works were more carefully thought out and composed more slowly.  She would observe a fleeting moment or experience something in her daily life that would capture her attention and then immediately sketch out a musical idea on the violin to portray her feelings about it.  Each Caprice was also written in a different place, reflecting where Sonia was living at that particular time.  Some Caprices were composed in Berlin, some in Spain, some in France, and the last one in Vienna, and Sonia sticks to the language, as in the musical language and also the actual spoken language, of each place accordingly.  Therefore, we have 10 Caprices that are each completely individual and very imaginative, telling their own personal story.

Caprice No. 1 is called ‘Die Kranke und die Uhr’ – ‘The Sick and the Clock’.  Sonia wrote this Caprice as she sat at the bedside of her sick friend, while a clock ticked ominously in the background.  In this short Caprice, there are two main sections; the rhythmic chime of the clock, and the emotive cry from Sonia, representing her feelings about losing her sick friend.  The clock motif returns at the end of the Caprice, but this time Sonia asks for it to be played as quietly as possible; perhaps there is a connection between the incredibly quiet, fading rhythm of the clock on the wall and the fading rhythm of breathing life in the bed before her…

Following this, we have Caprice No. 2, ‘Sherz’, or ‘Joke/Prank.  It’s only about 2 and a half minutes, but it’s probably the trickiest little bugger of the set (is that the prank?!).  It’s full of little funny, sparkly moments and plenty of tricks!

Caprice No. 3, ‘Chant triste-chant gai’, ‘Sad song-happy song’, is probably the first of the Caprices where we really feel Sonia’s love for Walter soaring through it.  It goes wayyyy high up on the G and D strings in the sad song bit, which often sounds overwhelming and makes me feel like Sonia almost couldn’t express enough how much she loved Walter, and then becomes more bouncy and bright in the happy song.  This Caprice constantly switches between the two songs, but with which one will Sonia leave us?

Sonia, by Walter Gramatté

The following two Caprices were composed during Sonia’s time living in Spain, and they very much portray this new culture that she was experiencing for the first time.  First, we have Caprice No. 4,La isla de oro‘, ‘The golden island’, which Sonia composed on the island of Mallorca.  The Caprice opens with strummed pizzicato chords that sound like a guitar, and then she writes a kind of flamenco melody, very dark, mysterious and mesmerisingly beautiful.  I especially love how Sonia ends the Caprice with the same chords she opened with, but this time she writes ‘aspirando’ above them;  I thought this might indicate something like we must breathe in the last smells of Mallorca, faint now and fading away as the music also fades! What do you think?

Sonia dedicated Caprice No. 5, ‘Danse Marocaine’ or Marocain Dance, to Fatima, a dancer whom Sonia observed performing – an impression that would last a lifetime on her.  This music is rhythmic and exciting, capturing the essence of the Spanish dancers, the sights of the gypsies, the markets and the camels who all shared the experience of seeing this dance with Sonia. The middle section is also quite remarkable; Sonia writes for it to be played like a ‘Moorish flue‘.  It took me a while to come up with a sound that I thought could match this instruction, to make my violin sound like a traditional Spanish flute.  With the help of a wonderful flautist at The Banff Centre, I think I created an unusual pipe-like sound.  See how you think I did!

Caprice No. 6, ‘El pajarito’, ‘The little bird, is probably my favourite of the set.  Sonia wrote it after observing a little bird trapped in his cage, and the whole Caprice follows his struggle in trying to escape to freedom.  The ending is strange and open – I think Sonia leaves it to us to decide if the little bird won in his plight, found his freedom or succumbed to a life of imprisonment inside the cage.  I thought I would share too, that at the end of this Caprice Sonia has left this note: ‘Music is a language; let’s describe here the soul of this tiny bird: describing what he went through after being aware where he was: gentle first, desperate and resigning, because hopeless, helpless!’  Could there be a personal message from Sonia behind these words and this music?  Did she feel trapped in the cage of a society that didn’t accept her as a woman and a composer?

Caprice No. 7, ‘Le départ d’un train’, ‘The departure of the train’, portrays the moment in 1928 when, as Sonia’s career was just beginning to take off, she said goodbye to her sick husband on the platform of a train station in France.  Sonia was off on a concert tour in America, leaving her beloved Walter behind to battle his illness alone.  It was unimaginably difficult for both of them, and this is the mood that comes across in this Caprice.  It has some beautifully sad melodies combined with train noises, speeding up and slowing down, winding it’s way to its own end.  The music almost matches an inner struggle that perhaps Sonia was feeling; the painful emotions of saying goodbye to Walter mixed with her exciting train journey, taking her to places she had only dreamt of.

Müdes Blumenmädchen, by Walter Gramatté

In Caprice No. 8, ‘Elegie’, we say a last farewell to Walter.  It was composed during winter, an image of falling snow beautifully reflecting the tragic mood of the music.  Even as Sonia remembers their happy times together, captured in the sprightly middle section, the pain and emotion of losing him is ever prevalent here.

Something completely different in Caprice No. 9, ‘Chestnut Hill at Night’.  This one was composed in Philadelphia, during Sonia’s big concert tour in the States (which had been organised and promoted by Leopold Stokowski).   This Caprice is full of the new and exciting sounds and sights that Sonia experiences for the first time in this new part of the world.  It was really fun to come up with ideas for what was happening in each moment of this music while I was working on it; what exactly did Sonia see here, on Chestnut Hill!?  Philadelphia is so often associated with the righteous traditions and philosophies upheld by America’s forefathers, but, paradoxically, this Caprice sounds sometimes exotic, sometimes risky, even sometimes quite dangerous!

Finally, Caprice No. 10, ‘Klage’, ‘Complaint’.  By this point, in 1934, Sonia had found peace and contentment with her second husband, Ferdinand.  Did she feel guilty for her so-called ‘betrayal’ of Walter?  Is this Caprice perhaps a lament on losing her real love?  This music is slow and sad, not in the tragic sense, as in Caprices 7 and 8, but in a humble and soft way.  Sonia would never let go of Walter, he certainly always lived on as a central part of her life and Ferdinand’s too.

 

Die Genesende, by Walter Gramatté

 

There is so much more that I could say about this remarkable composer and her music, far too much to be able to fit into this one post.  If you would be interested to read more snippets about Sonia and her life, or quotes from and about Sonia herself, I will be sure to add more to the Stories of Sonia and Quotes pages, which you can feel free to browse through – there are some real corkers in there!  If reading about the Caprices here has given you an appetite to know more about Sonia’s music, you can read my Masters Thesis, which studies the Caprices in a detailed and comprehensive way.

For now, though, I really hope you will feel inspired to give my album a listen, and perhaps to read along with this blog post, so that the music may make more sense as you listen.  I still have some CDs available, so if you would like to own your own copy of the Caprices, or you know of a library or education institution that would be interested in adding it to their archives, please contact me and I will send one over!

I hope you enjoy the album and Sonia’s music, and that we, together, can bring more public awareness to this extraordinary composer and beautiful music!

 

 

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My Favourite Things About Hannover

It has to be said, when one is planning a holiday to Germany, much less thinking of MOVING to Germany, Hannover really isn’t the first city to come to mind as a very exciting or attractive option.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t even make it into your top 10 list of possible German cities to visit, ever!  I first moved here 4 years ago and, to be honest, I often ask myself how I could have ended up in such a place as this.  Hannover is a typical regional German city; it’s pretty low-key and quiet, with not MUCH going on, and for most of the year we wake up to that characteristically dark, grey, northern German sky.  Hannover was also completely decimated during the allied bombing of World War II, so a lot of the city is made up of ugly, new infrastructure.  All in all, life can get kind of miserable here.

However, Hannover has been a city that I have made my home for the last 4 years, and this has forced me to seek out the great sides of the city that ARE there – they do exist!  Even when I am fed up of life here, there are things and aspects of this city that I really do appreciate, even more so when I visit other cities which lack them.  I have also found some special corners of Hannover that I know I am going to miss when I move away, so I thought, while I am still here, that I would write about them on my blog.  Perhaps this will be a post that I can look back on if I ever feel homesick for this place (doubtful).  And if, for whatever reason, you may find yourself with some time to spend in this city, maybe you can take me up on some of these suggestions!

The first thing that I particularly like about Hannover is how convenient it is to get around the city.  The main hub of the city is pretty small which means that I can pretty much get around everywhere fairly quickly by foot – for someone like me who doesn’t drive, this is wonderful.  It’s also a very bike-friendly city, with proper bike paths on basically every street. The street tram and bus transport system works really well too, if you do need to get to a more remote area, and the lines will even take you way out-of-town to neighbouring villages.  Local transport is also very cheap; a day ticket for zone 1 is only about €5.50 and for all 3 zones it still costs under €10.  Just knowing that transport is there for me if I need it is very freeing and I am thankful to have been able to make use of it.

 

Something that I have noticed about Hannover which I think makes it a really unique place, especially in comparison to other German cities, is that the culture and lifestyle of the people here is very normal and pretty low-stress.  Wealth is not at all displayed in this city; there are very few expensive or designer shops, there is no ‘super-rich area’, no pretentiousness and no feeling of disparity between the different classes of people.   It really doesn’t matter which neighbourhood you say you live in, in Hannover, and I appreciate that people across the whole city have a general feeling of community – everyone is just going about their normal day-to-day business, and that makes it an easy place to live.

The amount of green space that this city holds is wonderful.  There is a huge forest called the Eilenriede, or Alder Moor, right in the centre of the city, directly behind the Musik Hochschule actually, and Hannover is full of other smaller parks, trees and nice greenery.  The river that flows through Hannover, the Leine, also has lovely green parks running alongside it, which makes for some nice walks and is also a great place to drink a beer or cook up a barbeque on a warm summer evening.  One of my favourite spots to go for walks, especially as it is around the corner from where I live, is up around the Deister Berg.  You walk up a small hill and instantly feel like you are in the countryside.  The best time of year up there is in the spring, when the bluebells come out and are just gorgeous.

Bluebells up on Deister Berg

An autumnal walk around the Deister

 

I couldn’t write about Hannover without mentioning beer – beer culture here is just as strong as it is anywhere in Germany.  There are two particular features of how the Hannoverians treat beer that I especially enjoy.  The first conveniently leads on from my previous point about the city’s green spaces and nice walks, and that is the wonderful beer gardens that Hannover boasts.  I know they exist elsewhere too, but I do love to spend evenings with friends at the beer gardens here; the atmosphere is always so friendly and jovial and it’s always a fun time!  My favourite beer gardens in Hannover are situated in the middle of nice walks around the city, which is why these two things go together no nicely!  There’s the one on top of Deister Berg, located in an old water tower called Lindener Turm, there’s one at Waterloo Platz, which is huge and great for watching big football matches, and there’s a smaller and more hippie one called Biergarten Gretchen which is very nice too!  The second way I like to enjoy beer in Hannover is by something called KioskKultur.  Hannover has the largest number of kiosks (like a newsagent or corner store) of any German city, and a very strong part of life here is to get together with friends, grab a beer from a kiosk and enjoy it outside together while wandering around or sitting somewhere in public.  On any normal Friday evening, or Feierabend as we call it, this is what you will see most people doing – the vibes are definitely very chilled and it’s a really nice way to unwind at the end of the week.

The beer garden at Lindener Turm, one fall Sunday

Delicious pumpkin cake also served at the turm!

 

Germany is so steeped in history, and although, as I mentioned earlier, Hannover was mostly destroyed during the Second World War, there are small souvenirs of history dotted around the city which are really interesting to see.  If you head into the Neues Rathaus, the new town hall – also quite a fine and impressive looking building with nice views from the top, you can look at the four miniature models of Hannover that have been set up.  There is one to represent what the city looked like during the Middle Ages, one at the outbreak of the war, another just after the war, and one showing what the city looks like now.  It’s remarkable to see all the different stages of development and destruction that Hannover has gone through.  Across from the Rathaus are the remains of an old bombed out church called the Aegidienkirche, originally built in the 1300s.  These remains have been left by the city as a war memorial and every day, four times per day, the restored bells ring out over the city.  There is also a ‘peace bell’ located in the bell tower – a gift to Hannover from its sister city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Every year, on 6th August, both cities ring their bells together as a tribute to their sad histories.  Another interesting sight to see in Hannover is the Maschsee, although it too has a dark story.  During the years of the Third Reich, Hitler ordered for this lake to be built out of slave labour by the persecuted Jews.  Today you can still see where the old Nazi monument stood, although the city parliament has done it’s best to deface it and now even holds food and music festivals around this lake!

Old Nazi monument at the Maschsee

View of the Rathaus over the Maschsee

 

Speaking of festivals, there are so many going on in Hannover, all year round.  The best one though, and the one that I truly will be missing, is the Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market.  Of all the Christmas markets that I have been to all around Germany and Austria, Hannover’s is honestly the best one!  There are so many different sections to it, each with their own special delicacy; the cosy pine forest, the Scandinavian log fire-roasted salmon, the medieval street performers, the blacksmiths, the amazing sausages and spicy mustard, the mead, the little market stalls selling handmade decorations and textiles… And the Glühwein!!! Glühwein with rum, Glühwein with amaretto, Glühwein with brandy.  Oh, it is so delicious and so perfect for a cold winter night!

‘The Pyramid’ – The notorious meeting spot for Glühwein at Hannover’s Weihnachtsmarkt

 

Lastly, I thought I would just mention a few other things I like to do in my spare time in Hannover, and the places I like to go.  In Hannover’s most famous attraction, the Herrenhausen Palace, is a building called the Orangerie – a large room totally decked out with insanely beautiful (and original!) murals all over the walls.  Perhaps I am biased because I have seen only fabulous concerts here, including one by Isabelle Faust that I won’t ever forget, but it is such an amazing space to see a performance in, so I definitely recommend checking out what’s on there.

The beautiful interior of the Orangerie

We don’t get very many movies in their original languages here in Hannover, and most English films are unfortunately dubbed.  However, every now and then there are a couple of really cool cinemas that do show original movies and they are really fun to see.  The Astor is a bigger cinema, with lots of screens and the full popcorn-movie experience, although it’s not the cinema that the kids choose to go to which makes it a much more pleasant experience!  If you pay a few more €’s, you can also be served wine and beer at your comfortable reclining seat!  Another tiny independent cinema is called the Hochhaus Lichtspiele – they show only independent or foreign films in their original version, about once per month.  There is only one screen here and it’s a very casual atmosphere, with scattered comfy seating and simple cushions on the floor, if that’s what floats your boat.

The Altstadt flea market, which takes place every Saturday along the Leine, come rain or shine, is something in Hannover that is not to be missed.  It is Germany’s oldest flea market and it’s huge!  You can find lots of treasures here; from unique LP’s to bits of handcrafted furniture, jewellery and old china wares.  It’s also where I got my Zassenhaus coffee mill for 20 Euros!

Some scenes from the Altstadt Flea Market

 

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A S**t Week

Time to be totally honest.

This week has been hard to get through, it’s been a real downer, it’s been shit.  And yet, here we are again, we’ve reached another Sunday and I am facing the (self-set) weekly challenge of writing a nice post to put up here.  Truth is, I can’t really do it today.  I don’t feel very positive or inspired, and I don’t want to write about wonderful things when I don’t feel at all wonderful myself.  So, instead of faking my way through it and not doing anyone any justice, I thought I would just talk through what’s going on, and why I am feeling so down.  Maybe, hopefully, this will be some kind of therapeutic exercise for me, or it will be relatable for anyone out there who feels the same way.  So for now, I thank you for your patience in this, and look forward to writing something a little more uplifting next week!

We all have bad days, of course, it’s totally normal.  Perhaps, then, this week has just been a series of bad days for me, and they just all happened to come in a bunch together.  But, somehow, I am not content to just leave it at that.  My feelings aren’t those of being helpless and hopeless, I don’t feel like I just can’t do anything and have to wait for this tough period to pass.  Maybe that’s why this week has felt especially difficult – I still feel absolutely motivated!  I feel the need and energy to do things and get stuff done, I’m chasing up loose ends, getting out there and fighting the world.  But mixed in with this motivation, has been an ongoing suffering in my mind, and it’s having a horrible effect on me, so I want to figure out what is causing it and why.

I think I can identify my main negative emotion as stress.  It is very much in my nature to worry and over-stress about absolutely anything, so this is clear and not anything unusual for me.  However, I am normally able to keep my stress levels somewhat under control in a way that I haven’t managed in the past week.  Why?

Not to get too psychoanalytical here (although, why not..?), answering this question is difficult; it involves asking yourself really tough questions, even asking other people with more of a perspective those questions about yourself, and it also requires being really open-minded and allowing yourself the freedom to feel things you might not particularly want to feel!  After going through all of this, I have found that I can sort my stress into three different groups, each with their own sub-groups and secret side notes, and this has made understanding my feelings much easier for me and even improved my mood.

  1. Politics.  Along with a lot of people, I have felt deeply affected with this week’s proceedings in the Kavanaugh-Ford case.  I was humbled, moved and inspired by Ford’s testimony, but felt so shocked and betrayed by the way that she has been treated by the Republicans and people who hold ‘power’ over her.  This case has highlighted just where we are at in the treatment of women in our patriarchal society, and it makes me scared to integrate myself into that society, led by a man who thinks it is OK to sexually mistreat women.  Senator Kamala Harris articulates these sentiments more eloquently and powerfully than I could possibly write down here, so I very much encourage you to watch her speech if you haven’t already seen it.
  2. The Move.  It’s not surprising that my move, which is bearing down quickly upon me, is becoming such a huge source of stress for me.  The move itself is just the umbrella title; it encompasses the packing, getting rid of and selling all of our possessions, the business with our lawyer and my paperwork, the money, the daunting thought of living in a place I don’t know, finding a new house to live in, saying goodbye to Europe, adjusting to something that is as yet unknown, and all the many surprises that are to come.  I bet reading that list even stresses you out!
  3. General life worries.  These are all of the regular worries that never really go away.  Worries about my work, my finances, my relationship, my family, the future, what to do about dinner.  These are the worries that I think I have got good (or reasonable) at tackling on a daily basis, but paired with the other stress sources mentioned above, they have all, in turn, become exaggerated and augmented in my mind.  I feel like I am on the edge of a total overwhelming freak out at all times and anything could set me off!

Going into next week, I have planned to try out some new ‘self-caring’ strategies to help myself cope better and hopefully improve my mood.  I am going to read the news less – this week I have been glued to it and that probably hasn’t helped me – and read my book more.  I am going to get back into my normal gym routine – this week I couldn’t go as normal for various reasons, so hopefully getting back to my regular work-out schedule will help take my mind off bad things and make me feel better in myself.  I have also decided to try to live more slowly and intentionally.  I normally do everything I can, as fast as possible, and I think this makes me a stressful person!  I want to take a step back, and take more time over things like making decisions, working, walking and doing.  Maybe I will write a blog post on these thoughts.  Lastly, I am going to put a lot of my time next week into doing the kind of work that I love most, and I know I am privileged to be able to do that, so I feel very grateful that I can.  I still have a lot of work to do on my album which is work that I find hugely rewarding and fulfilling.  I also have new creative projects just beginning to take shape which I am SO excited about, and I am going to dedicate my time and effort to them, instead of stupid work and people.

So that was my week.  I would love to hear from you if you have also been feeling down about current events, and would be very interested to know what your coping mechanisms are for times like these – please let me know!

 

 

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Neuschwanstein Castle: How To Do It and Everything You Need To Know

Schloss Neuschwanstein is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and interesting castles I have ever visited – and I have lived in Europe all my life, I’ve been to a lot of castles.  Built surprisingly NOT that long ago in the second half of the 19th century by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle is located deep in the heart of the Bavarian region of Germany, about two hours outside of Munich, towering above the small village of Hohenschwangau.  The castle itself was originally intended to be a quiet and remote refuge, just far enough away from Munich, where Ludwig II, who was somewhat of a recluse, wanted to live out his last days in peace and privacy.  As a personal homage to Wagner, the king adorned the interior rooms of the castle with stunning frescos that depict all of Wagner’s operas and, combined with strategically placed balconies that give truly awe-inspiring views, this is a REAL fairytale castle to behold.

 

 

For a long time now, I have been wanting and planning to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, and I finally got the chance to last week.  After my visit, I came away with many thoughts about the whole experience, which I thought might be worth writing up in a blog post here, in case any readers may also be interested in visiting this castle.  I will say that a visit to this castle is definitely worthwhile and you SHOULD go.  However, there are some extremely useful things to know beforehand, some that I did and others that I wish I did, so I hope you find this post helpful.  * I will not discuss the castle itself or its history in this post, other than what I outlined in the introductory paragraph – this post will only cover how to visit the castle and what to expect when you get there.

The first thing to know about visiting Neuschwanstein, before you decide to go and start planning your trip, is that it is totally over-run with tourists.  I don’t say this to put you off going – I still maintain that a visit to this castle is worthwhile – but you have to keep in mind that the crowds and tour buses and selfie-sticks and cheap souvenirs are RIFE.  They try to get as many people through the interior room tour of the castle as quickly as possible, which means there really is no time to stop and admire the beauty of it all, except for a second, before being herded off into the next room (but more about the interior tour later).  So, if you are OK with dealing with tourists and crowds and crowds of people, then great, but if you know you cannot get on board with that, then I would suggest doing something else.

How to get there

The train

If you are travelling to Neuschwanstein independently by train from Munich, don’t worry, it’s not a complicated trip.  You will need to take a train from Munich Main Station (München Hauptbahnhof) to Füssen – it takes about two hours and Füssen is the last stop on the line so you can’t miss it.  By the way, the train journey becomes very scenic as you approach the mountains, so try to get a window seat!  Once you arrive in Füssen, you take a bus no. 78 to Neuschwanstein Castle – it will say this on the front of the bus and there will be hundreds of people taking the same bus (usually they actually provide a few buses leaving at the same time) so just follow the crowd if you aren’t sure!  The bus drops you off just at the bottom of the mountain on which the castle sits, and there will be signs to the ticket centre.

Buying the travel tickets

Very important: don’t fall into the trap of buying the VERY expensive full price train ticket from Munich to Schloss Neuschwanstein, which can cost over €100!!  If you are travelling alone or in a group of up to 5 people, get the Bavarian region ticket, or Bayern Ticket, available from any ticket machine.  This ticket allows you to travel anywhere within the region of Bavaria on any regional RE/RB train (so NOT an ICE train, which you don’t need for Neuschwanstein anyway), as well as on any local transport services, and it is MUCH cheaper.

For 1 person: €23

For 2 people: €31

For 3 people: €37

For 4 people: €43

For 5 people: €49

This ticket will get you all the way to the castle and back, and then to wherever you are staying in Munich city!  One thing to remember about the Bayern Ticket, is that it cannot be used before 9am – for getting to Neuschwanstein this means the first train you can take from Munich is at 09:52, arriving at the castle at about 12:20.

Getting up to the castle

Once you have acquired your tickets for entrance to the castle from the ticket centre, you may hike up the hill to the castle, which takes 35-40 minutes, take a horse-drawn cart, €7 to get up the hill and €3.50 to go down, or take the shuttle bus, also for a small fee.  Note: if you decide to take the horse cart or the bus up to the castle, you will be dropped off a little way down from the castle, so there will still be a bit of walking to do.  If you are travelling with someone who is disabled, they may find this difficult.

When you arrive up at the castle, there will be many viewpoints and benches to sit and have a snack on, as well as maps and touristy souvenir shops.  You will have a tour time designated to you on your ticket and you can enter the castle at that time.  Upon entering the castle, your bag will be checked by a very friendly and jolly security team and if you are wearing a backpack, you will be asked to wear it front ways, so just be prepared for that.

What to do at the castle

Castle tickets

I would highly recommend booking your tickets to enter the castle online in advance, as the queue to buy them then and there went on for miles!  I know the website can be a bit confusing, but basically how it works is: you reserve the number of tickets that you want online, stating whether you also want to include the tour of the interior rooms, and provide your credit card info online in advance (you won’t be charged at this point).  If you choose to do the interior tour, you must select a time for the tour that is 90 minutes after you arrive at the castle, so that you have ample time to look around and get up to the castle entrance.  Therefore, at this point, you have to figure out your arrival times/train times.  We took the 09:52 train mentioned above, and had booked our tour for 14:50, and this gave us loads of time to have lunch, take it all in, take some pictures etc.  So I would recommend following a schedule like that.

When you arrive at the ticket centre, you may join the (much smaller and quicker) line for pre-reserved tickets – make sure you have your confirmation email of your reserved tickets to show the ticket person.  Then you are free to do as you like until your tour time!

If you have opted out of the tour, there is still plenty to do; you can hike up to the castle and around it to the Marienbrücke, you can rent a paddle boat and go out onto the gorgeous lake, have a picnic, stop at a Gasthaus…

 

 

The interior tour

OK – I’ll say it again, I really do think that seeing inside of the castle is worth it.  It is unlike anything I have seen; the murals and paintings depicting different Wagner operas are stunning, each room is different and decorated in a unique style and the views from the windows and balconies are absolutely amazing … it’s definitely a special place.

BUT.  What they really mean by ‘tour’, is that you will be in a group of about 100 people, and every person will be given their own audio guide (mine failed to work for the first few minutes).  The ‘tour guide’ will activate all the audio guides at the same time, to which we will all listen in silence.  Each audio clip for each room lasts about 3 minutes, before we are quickly herded into the next.  In most cases, as I was at the back of the tour, I didn’t even manage to squeeze into the room that the audio guide was telling me about at that moment, so the audio guide really became irrelevant to me.  The tour behind ours even began to overtake me, so there really is NO time to linger and look more closely at the artwork, which is SUCH a shame.

So, there it is.  If you are claustrophobic, or can’t stand that kind of treatment, this isn’t for you.  I feel somewhat conflicted because I hated it, but am still glad I got to see those brilliant paintings, which I will remember.  Also, good to know is that there are lots of windy narrow staircases, so if you have vertigo this might not be for you.

 

 

Marienbrücke

Leading off from the entrance to the castle, you have the option to walk over to the Marienbrücke – about a 20-minute hike that takes you to a bridge which gives you the best views over the castle.  Again, I did it, and I’m glad because I got some good photos, but you could barely move on the bridge at all because of the number of people who were on it.  We were all pretty much pressed right up against each other – not a nice experience and actually a little scary as you could definitely feel the dangerously thin-looking wooden planks under you wobble under the weight of all the people!

Practical info

What to eat

There are several options for what to do about food on your visit to Neuschwanstein.  First, you have the village of Füssen, where you arrived at by train.  There are several Gasthauses there.  I can’t say this for sure, but it looked to me like the closer you got to the castle itself, the more touristy and not very good the Gasthauses/cafes seemed to be! When you alight from the 78 bus near the ticket centre for the castle, you have more options for these kinds of cafes. They are all extremely typical Bavarian in style and food that they offer, and looked pretty expensive.  As you make your way up to the castle, you will have more of these options, as well as the chance to buy ice-creams and snacks from the little shops around the entrance to the castle.

What I honestly suggest is to bring your own picnic.  The nature of the place is what is most beautiful, and if you are lucky enough to go on a day with great weather, why not make the most of it!  There are lots of nice spots to set up in, which is what we did, and it felt wonderful to enjoy some food outside in that environment.

 

 

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10 Things That Make Me Feel Really British

  1. TEA
    At all hours, day and night.
    Must be just the right shade of light brown.

  2. Calling “Cheers Mate” to the bus driver as you alight from the bus
    You met them once, they delivered you home, they are definitely your mate.  Also, yes, we say “alight”.

  3. Rainy Walks
    The British countryside offers some absolutely gorgeous walks.  Unfortunately, a walk that doesn’t involve some amount of rain is very rare.  It’s just part of the whole experience.

  4. A pint at the local pub
    My favourite pub in England is Dad’s local; ‘The Eddie’.  It is beautifully old-fashioned, with delicious beer on tap and good old board games on offer.

     

  5. A Sunday roast
    For some reason, Sunday’s are always incomplete without a tender piece of roast meat, little roast potatoes, veggies and, of course, a Yorkshire Pud.

  6. Hearing a wonderful melting pot of accents
    Wherever you go in the UK, you will hear a vast array of different accents and dialects of the English language, from the Geordies to the Scouse, the Welsh and Scottish, the West Country and the Cockney… And when a few of them come together in one conversation, it sounds like a marvellous, albeit slightly comical, musical symphony of language.
  7. MARMITE
    I love it.  You probably hate it.
  8. The feeling of pursing one’s lips, holding in your feelings, all to avoid an argument and keep the peace
    The British are experts at bottling up their emotions to avoid any embarrassing conflicts or public displays of emotions.  The neighbours are always watching, and what will they think?!

  9. “I’m desperate for the loo”
    Some of our shortened words and phrases are just brilliant, especially those used in connection to the bathroom: loo, bog, privy, spend a penny…

  10. Monster Munch
    My personal favourite.  These pickled onion flavoured crisps are mouth-wateringly good.

     

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Beautiful world, where are you?

Today, I simply want to share a stanza from a poem by German poet Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenlands – The Gods of Greece.

This poem, written in 1788 and later set to music in the form of an almost painfully beautiful song by Franz Schubert, is originally 25 verses long, although Schubert chose only one of these for his lied.  Having just spent some time in Liverpool, a city that is currently in the midst of its 2018 Biennial of Contemporary Art – a festival, set this year to the theme of Schubert’s particular chosen stanza, Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? – I felt compelled to share these touching, emotional and very relevant words.

 

Schöne Welt, wo bist du? Kehre wieder
Holdes Blütenalter der Natur!
Ach, nur in dem Feenland der Lieder
Lebt noch deine fabelhafte Spur.
Ausgestorben trauert das Gefilde,
Keine Gottheit zeigt sich meinem Blick,
Ach, von jenem lebenwarmen
Bilde Blieb der Schatten nur zurück.
Fair world, where are you? Return again,
sweet springtime of nature!
Alas, only in the magic land of song
does your fabled memory live on.
The deserted fields mourn,
no god reveals himself to me;
of that warm, living image
only a shadow has remained.
English Translation © Richard Wigmore

The Biennial writes of this poem,  “Today the poem continues to suggest a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political and environmental turmoil. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.” (Visit their website here)

 

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Going Blonde

Something that I love about my blog, is that I have the freedom to write about absolutely anything I want.  Whether I’ve been inspired by an art exhibition or a performance that I have recently seen, have stories to tell about a place that I have visited, or if I just feel strongly about a particular topic – anything goes here in my little nook.  Just now, my life is definitely on the stressful side; I have a huge impending move, bringing with it many difficult challenges, I haven’t been home for more than a couple of weeks in a long time and, well, I am a poor musician!  (Enough said!)  So, I thought that for today’s blog post I would take a step back, write about something fun and just keep it real.  The subject of today’s post is how I dyed my hair blonde.

Going blonde was quite an experience.  It took longer and a lot more work than I ever anticipated and I am still learning how to handle it.  So I thought I would document the process here – this will be a post that I would have wished to read myself before I began this blonde journey of mine.  And please, if you have any personal experience in this matter, any tips to add, I would love to read them, so do leave them in a comment below!

I guess I should start by clarifying that my natural hair colour is a kind of darkish red – in winter it looks a little more brick-brown and in summer it tends to go a shade of strawberry blonde. I have experimented with dying my hair darker in the past; I first tried a tone just a little darker than my natural colour when I was about 16, and have since also gone a more chocolatey brown.  But I have always been curious to see what a true golden blonde would look like on me.  And the thing about hair is, it grows!  Nothing you do to it will ever require more than a short-term commitment!  To me, this just calls for creative experimentation.

So where did I begin?  Well, I decided first, being the cheap-skate that I am, that I would try to do it myself at home.  I first bought a semi-permanent box dye of a shade that was more of a dark blonde.  I would say, at this point, I was still unsure of the exact kind of blonde I wanted to be, and this is something I would suggest you really think about first if you are considering going blonde – it’s definitely a good idea to know the colour you really want to be before you start.  I also chose the 8-week wash-out dye, only because this is what I had done for going darker in the past and it had always worked really well.  Basically, this dye did nothing.  Maybe in some light it looked ever so slightly lighter… but you couldn’t really see any difference.  So I wrote this off as a fail.

Next, I decided to change two things; I would now try a permanent box dye, instead of the wash-out one, and I would pick one that looked super light blonde on the box (lighter than I had intended to go).  By the way, we have a pretty limited choice of box dyes in the shops here in Germany – I have since seen the selection of dyes in stores in North America, which is highly extensive in comparison – so both box dyes that I bought were L’Oreal, as this was pretty much the best option I had available to me.  After dying my hair with this second one, I found that it came out lighter than the first one, but it still wasn’t blonde!  My hair was now just a lighter version of red.

At this point, I realised that I was never going to get to a real blonde colour by myself at home.  So, with the help of my kind aunt, I arranged an appointment at a salon in Stratford, Ontario (where I was headed in a couple of weeks).  Before my appointment, I finally decided to choose a shade of blonde that I really wanted and the kind of look that I was going for.  I did some research online and found a picture of a style that I really liked, and I took that picture with me to the salon.

My Aunt and I, with newly blonde hair

The result: I LOVE my new blonde hair!  I have to say, my hairdresser was fabulous, she pretty much achieved exactly the look of the picture I showed her, and I can highly recommend Dudes and Dames Hairdressing Salon in Stratford! The appointment took about 4 hours in total, and most of that time was spent applying the dye individually to very small sections of hair (I have a lot of hair).  So if you are going to go through it, bring some reading material! I actually found my hairdresser’s technique for applying the dye pretty interesting; she would apply it in a V shape to some sections of hair, to achieve a kind of ombre look, before wrapping it, and then applied it directly from the roots in other sections, which she then folded and wrapped in foil.  She even left a few strands of hair all over my head out, so they stayed red, and the overall look creates so much texture and dimension.

Now, by this point, I had achieved the blonde that I wanted, and I was so happy.  However, I still had (and have) a lot to learn, because what I have discovered is that getting to the blonde you want is only part of the journey.  Maintaining the blonde is where the real challenge lies.  I have found that since going blonde, my hair has been very dry and brittle, and extremely difficult to brush.  I have been using L’Oreal Ever Pure Colour Care System shampoo and conditioner, followed by some coconut-oil-based serum and a frizz control product from Lush.  I brush my hair out with a wide tooth comb after I shower, as this has always been my strategy for dealing with my curls.  Again, if you have any suggestions for good products to use, I am all ears!

The other thing is that, of course, I knew my hair would grow quickly, and with this my roots would also grow out.  And it is happening very, very quickly!  I still absolutely love my blonde hair, but it is changing in tone every day as it grows, so I am always learning how to style it to make it look good and fresh, and constantly trying new things with it.

As of right now, I am not sure what my next plan will be; whether I will re-dye it, just touch up my roots at some point, let it all grow out altogether, or dye it a whole new colour!  I guess I will see how it goes and what happens over the next few weeks and months.  I will say that, for right now, I am really enjoying my new look and the feelings it gives me; it’s kind of like having a new character to play when I am out and about!  It feels warm and summery, friendly and bright, and I know that my red hair is lurking there, not far away, so I really don’t miss it!

So, if you are considering changing your hair colour, to blonde or anything else, I say do it!  It will satisfy that small curious voice in your head, and even if you hate it, it’s always good to try new things!

 

To Recap

What I learned:

  • Know exactly what colour and shade you want to dye your hair
  • Blonde hair needs a professional
  • Be prepared for lots of after-care!

 

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Why I Love Live Theatre

As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.  I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!

Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important.   I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all.  Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!

(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)

 

A piece of art comes to life! 

When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable!  They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience!  At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music.  But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it.  And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too.  Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.

 

Different interpretations

I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it,  finding its own meanings for myself.  Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting!  This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different.  Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger.  Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech.  For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language.  At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two.  One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.

 

Each one on their own journey

Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members.  There is always so much happening in the audience!  Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it.  In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too.  We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads.  We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing.  Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently.  Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.

 

Human connection

Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people.  At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence.  But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together.  In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing.  There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends.  We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place.  In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.

 

There’s only one shot

This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience!  Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre.  They know this, and the audience knows it too.  Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs.  As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing.  As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous.  It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about.  And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!

 

Mistakes!

And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes.  I love mistakes.  I think they are brilliant.  Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake.  When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers!  To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.

 

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Pekka Kuusisto and The Reddress

Photo courtesy of Pierre Boulez Saal

 

When someone asks me to tell them who Pekka is and what he does I find it pretty difficult to answer in any coherent way!  I can tell you that Pekka Kuusisto is a violinist from Finland, that he can play ANYTHING in an astoundingly beautiful way but that he can also create new sounds that one has never heard before.  Pekka crosses boundaries, challenges you to consider life and music in new ways, to listen with new ears and seek out new meanings and ideas.  Whether he is playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, old Scandinavian Folk tunes or even just improvising on the spot, there is an artistry in his work and a special humbleness in his character that creates something truly magical and utterly unique.

I have to admit that Pekka has been a hero of mine for many years (maybe then, this post is a little biased…!).  Throughout my student years, I was that annoying violin pupil that sat in my room for hours, watching and re-watching videos of him playing any repertoire that I was working on, making notes about every small idea or movement that he would make and trying to copy and implement it into my own playing (God, this is embarrassing). When I got to meet and work with him on Beethoven’s Op. 127 String Quartet a couple of years ago, it was a DREAM and I still feel inspired by that experience!   Pekka treated my colleagues and I as equal musicians, listened eagerly to our ideas, cared about us and our group like it was honestly as important to him as it was to us, worked with us for hours and hours after the schedule ‘told’ us to finish and then continued to sight-read Haydn Quartets with us late into the nights, ate ice-cream with us and made us laugh.  It was such a joy to realise that this violinist whom I SO admired, was also such a nice, friendly and beautiful person, and as a result I am now able to call him my friend.

Unforgettable days working on Beethoven Op. 127 and having so much fun! With Hannah Nicholas (Viola), Carlyn Kessler (Cello) and Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)

 

Alright, I think I’m doing OK so far, I think you get who Pekka is – great violinist, great person.  Now let me try to explain the Reddress.

I first heard about the Reddress during those 2 weeks of working on Beethoven with Pekka, when he told me all about its concept and design.  Very literally, the Reddress is like one huge organism; in the centre and high up on a podium is the nucleus of the dress, where the performer stands and commands, and throughout the body and folds of the dress, which take up the entire auditorium, are little pockets (200 in all) where members of the audience nestle in and become part of it.  The dress was designed by artist, Aamu Song, who questioned the traditional concert set up of a musician on stage in relation to their audience, who are usually so far away from them and sitting in de-humanising rows of seats.  She wanted to invent a new way of connecting musician and audience, make them all part of one event and overcome physical separation and distance.  And this is exactly what the Reddress does.

Song originally envisioned the Reddress for a female performer, and you might be wondering what it’s like to see a male artist, such as Pekka, at the centre of such a dress.  Well, when  Song first saw Pekka playing in the dress, she found that he kind of became part of it, that the dress was gender-neutral and that the whole experience was about so much more than just the dress – it became about the power of music and connection in performance.

In the miraculous and  incredible way that life sometimes works, I was lucky enough to get the chance to see Pekka perform in the Reddress at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin.  It was one of those pinch me moments – I somehow got a very last-minute ticket, jumped on a train from Hannover and just went for it, because I knew I might not get the chance again.  When I arrived at the hall, dry ice and atmospheric electronic sounds greeted me in the foyer and all the way up the stairs and into the main auditorium.  I heard other audience members gasping as they also arrived at the hall, asking ‘What’s going on here?!‘.  Because it was such a spontaneous decision to go to the concert, I sadly hadn’t managed to get a ticket for one of the pockets of the dress, which meant that I was sitting on the balcony and viewing from above.  But actually I found this to have some advantages – I could see the whole thing in action at once and, because of the magnitude and height of the dress, I still very much felt involved.

When the music died away and the lights dropped, Pekka walked out into the room, whistling and making sounds with his voice into a microphone, as he walked between the people in the pockets of the dress.  When it came time to get into the dress, a woman helped him up into it, zipping him in and Aamu Song passed his violin up to him from her own spot in the dress.  Pekka began to play folk music, alternating between deep and moving sounds, upbeat dance movements, cold and shuddering harmonics and improvised ideas.  He played each tune in many different fragments, which were then electronically looped, on top of which he added the new fragment, creating a really rich tapestry of music.  Sometimes the looping stopped and he took the mic off his violin, letting himself play alone, just a sweet violin playing a simple Finnish folk tune in a red dress.  The Reddress also had the capacity for 360 degree rotation, and this gave Pekka the freedom to constantly move as he wanted; he played to every single person in that room, constantly switching his direction, moving left to right and vice versa, up and down, sometimes bending right down to the ground, other times reaching as far up as he could, and I felt that he was always trying to establish a connection with everybody that was present.

When he came to the end of the performance, the ritual of exiting the dress began; the violin was passed back down to Song, the woman who had helped him into the dress unlocked him from it and he climbed back down into the folds of the audience.  The concert ended with Pekka walking again among the body of the dress and the live bodies inside it, playing the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin, adding his own ornaments and decoration in his typical ‘Pekka’ style and silently leaving the auditorium and Reddress behind.

I found it really interesting to watch the emotional reactions of the people who were inside the dress.  There were those who sat up, wanting to be actively a part of the event, those who were tapping their hands along to the beat of the tunes, couples who shared the experience together, children who were fascinated by everything, and even those who were probably asleep.  The Reddress gave this audience total freedom to be who they wanted to be during this performance, and they in turn made up part of the performance itself.

Like me, you might be bursting with questions about the physical logistics of the dress.  How is it maintained?  How do they pack it up and transport it?  What is it made of?  When I first laid my eyes on the Reddress, I was immediately struck by the sharpness of its colour and by how perfect it looked.  The majesty and passion of the red colour that was totally unblemished was extremely powerful.  I was so interested to read about the cleaning process of the dress, which is of utmost importance to Aamu Song, who insists on this for each and every performance.  Apparently the dress, which is made of wool, felt and satin,  is vacuumed and frozen at -20 degrees, and it takes several people to set up and lay out!  Once you see the vast size and sheer volume of the dress, you can only imagine how much work this takes.

Song and Pekka have both remarked on the addictive quality of the Reddress;  Pekka commented that he now misses that same connection to the audience in any normal concert and that the Reddress is his absolute favourite performance platform.  And I can also say, as a member of the audience, that I will definitely miss feeling so much part of a performance as I did on that night.  Both as an audience member, watching concerts from some distant little chair in the dark, and as an artist, performing from a stage which feels so lonely, just seems to make NO sense now!  It feels so unnatural and false.  Of course something like the Reddress is so huge and awesome that it would be practically impossible to bring it, or even something like it, to every performance.  But being part of the performance of the Reddress has really got me thinking about how we, both as musicians and as audiences, can work to make this connection something real and break down that silly boundary between us.  Should we be rethinking the design of the typical concert hall?  Should we reimagine our performance style altogether? Are the general public of audiences and of artists on board for this transformation?  Personally, I am hoping that the Reddress starts a revolution!

So, for now, that’s the best I can do – and I hope I did Pekka and the Reddress justice!

 

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A Few More Berlin Gems For A Lazy Day

It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog.  It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’.  If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!

The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before!  The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it.  I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to.  I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.

Bites To Eat

First off and most importantly: food.  Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street.  I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.

For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot).  Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly.  The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!).  The coffee is also spot on.  I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!

The Commonground breakfast!

Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen.  I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high.  Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times).  I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus.  I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious.  The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun.  The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about  €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food!  But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!

I got the pork broth – delicious!

Coffee

If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon!  Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up!  This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim.  It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it!  You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it.  If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.)  Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too.  As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered.  As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved.  It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.

My iced-latte at Ben Rahim

Independent and Vintage Shopping

Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district.  But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you!  For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique.  It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women.  They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis.  Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find.  If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big.  Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find.  I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!

If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop.  There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too.  From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while!  They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.

Attractions

If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered.  Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from.  I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that!  If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin.  It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located.  If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day!  Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it.  I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum.  It is awesome.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin

If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal.  This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim.  It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts.  Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).

Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal

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